Back in the days – and I mean, way back in prehistoric days – humans used to live in small packs. Everyone knew everyone, and we were all struggling for survival. It is highly probable that while everyone knew what everyone else was doing, there was no time to do much more than, well, survive.
Then we moved to larger packs, also known as villages. Because survival was a little easier, it took less of our time, and we started doing other things. At the beginning, villages were relatively small, and everyone knew everyone. Having more time available, this meant that some started the business of snooping into each others’ lives. To a certain extent, it kept us from misbehaving, for a single misstep would be reported to everyone else in the village.
Then, as our villages became towns and cities, it became impossible to know everyone, and anonymity gave us the space to do things we never did in our villages. The online world has given even more reach to our anonymity, allowing us to say things that we never before would have uttered in the middle of, say, the village’s main square. This is a whole other topic I will not be getting into now (but if you are interested, you should take a look at this.)
Are the tides changing? The very same thing that has given us anonymity, that is, the Internet, has also given us new windows into the lives of others. The media, and social media in particular, have somehow brought back the rules of the village. That is to say, we do not have the same big city anonymity anymore. Just like neighbours would spy on each other by peeping through their curtains, we spy on each other now through Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter.
On the one hand, it feels like we can again begin to keep each other in check – I have seen many Twitter users being told off for an insulting tweet or another (similar to what happened recently on Reddit). Unfortunately, it can also lead to unhealthy situations in which we try to unduly influence one another; just like how village life can stifle the creativity of its inhabitants, the images we are bombarded with are telling us there is a right way and a wrong way for us to lead our lives. There are certain rather narrow definitions of things such as beauty, family life, success and happiness, that are being imposed on us.
One such narrow definition I have written about many times already is that of beauty (here, here and here, for example). We all know it does not make sense, as the definition of beauty is so subjective. And yet, we all feed into it in one way or another. We tend to blame the fashion industry, but I do not think that is a fair accusation. If they think a size zero is beautiful, well, that’s what they believe is beauty. We have no right telling them what beauty is. But they do not have the right to tell us what beauty is either.
Which brings me to the matter that inspired this post in the first place. As you probably already heard, Lady Gaga responded recently to allegations that she had gained weight by posting pictures of herself in a bra and underwear. On the one hand, for a closely scrutinized celebrity such as herself to post such pictures, opening the way for some probably very nasty comments (haters will, after all, be haters) is a courageous act that inspired her millions of Twitter followers. However, this might not have been the wisest course of action. In a way, she fed the media monster (pun intended), justifying something – i.e. her beauty – which is something that just is, and cannot be justified and should not be judged. Had the voices of the people who accused Lady Gaga of something as unimportant as weight gain remained ignored, they would have eventually died off, and we could have focused on the other more important things that she is involved in, such as her fight against bullying.
But I do not blame her for voicing her concern, and applaud the reasons why she did so. For like her and like millions of women worldwide, I struggle with the concept of beauty. If we all eloquently and calmly raise our voices to overcome oppression, missteps will be corrected by the momentum of the movement of women and men who are tired of being stifled by such narrow definitions of beauty, amongst others. I for one look forward to the day when beauty becomes a holistic concept, when a beautiful person is someone who is healthy emotionally, physically and spiritually, who leads a healthy lifestyle and who is happy.